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Why is this bus idling? The answer will surprise you.

You’ve probably seen it many times: empty buses lined up at the GO station with the engines running. I’ve seen it too, so I asked some of the bus drivers why they leave the motor running when the bus is stopped for such a long period of time.

The answer I received was surprising. The reason the drivers keep the engine running is because “it powers the Presto computer”. That’s right, if the driver turns off the bus engine, the computer turns off too. And since it takes about a minute to re-boot the computer after the bus starts, the drivers just leave the engines running instead.

So, we have an unfortunate situation where a 500 HP diesel engine is used to power a 10 Watt computer. At the GO station, the buses typically wait 8 minutes on each visit. Multiply this by dozens of buses in the fleet, several times per day, 365 days per year and we have a massive waste of fuel. This practice amounts to thousands of liters of diesel fuel that is needlessly burned each year just because the Presto computer is lacking a battery.

Update Sep 16, 2018:

I was at the Terry Fox run today and noticed a police vehicle idling at one of the intersections while an officer was directing traffic. On the return loop (30 minutes later) the SUV was still idling. So I asked the officer if it was department policy to keep the engines running all day long. He replied that “it’s not policy, but is necessary because the on-board electronics take a long time to re-boot, and the engine is kept running to keep the battery charged”. So, we appear to have the same situation with the police vehicles that we have with the buses: huge engines are kept idling to power a small amount of electronics.

The following graph is taken from the Town website. Over a 16-year period, Town of Oakville is targeting to reduce the CO2 emissions per vehicle from 17 tonnes/year to 15 tonnes/year. This is 0.7% per year reduction (which seems way too conservative in my opinion).

One way to speed up our progress could be to add some batteries and charge management electronics to our vehicles. This would allow our drivers to turn off the engines and stop idling. It could cost a few hundred dollars per vehicle, but the investment would be repaid in a matter of weeks or months. More importantly, it would stop the needless polluting of our town’s air.

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